A July Visit to Barnwood

Nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis)

Dear Readers, Barnwood, a Community Forest in East Finchley, has become a real treasure-trove for biodiversity. I’d been sent a photo of a nursery web spider a few days ago, so I couldn’t wait to go and have a look for myself. In the photo above the proud Mum was looking after two balls of tiny spiderlings – a ladybird was roundly told off, though the spider clearly knew that the beetle wasn’t very tasty.

Nursery Web Spiderlings

The romantic life of a nursery web spider is fraught with danger for the male, who must woo the female with a wrapped gift of a fly or other tasty morsel. While she’s getting tucked in, he will hope to mate with her. If he’s lucky, he’ll make his getaway before she eats him. Then, the female lays a number of eggs which form a white ball – she will carry this around with her, and will also form the ‘nursery web’ that you can see in the photos. This is not used to catch prey – the spider hunts for these in the undergrowth – but for protection. The mother retreats into the sanctuary with her egg sac, which soon hatches to produce a mass of tiny spiderlings. At this point the mother stands guard outside until they disperse. 

I love the way that Barnwood has become not just a haven for wildlife, but a real community resource. Many of the fruit and nut trees are doing well, and the over-55s group has been making soup from foraged ingredients too. Here’s just a selection of the edible delights that are popping up…

Beech nut





One new development since my  last visit has been a lockable ‘shed’ – only someone who has had to lump garden tools backwards and forwards from their house without any way to store them on site will appreciate what a tremendous asset this is. And very fine it looks too.

The shed/lock-up

I tried to help ID some moths that had been caught in the trap overnight, but identifying these slightly worn noctuid moths is always a nightmare, at least for me. They will all be released into different places in the undergrowth so that the birds don’t learn where to find them. My friend L at Barnwood is going to ask a more experienced moth-er for some help with the ID. I am full of admiration for people who can understand the nuances of appearance between the different species.

We think that the tree growing by the entrance to Barnwood is an osier willow (Salix viminalis) – the plant’s flexible stems were historically used for basket weaving. It’s also a very useful plant for wildlife, and like all willow species can decontaminate heavy metals in soil.

Osier willow (Salix viminalis)

The prickly sowthistle and the common knapweed are in full flower – both are much favoured by bees and hoverflies. 

Prickly sowthistle (Sonchus asper\0

Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

And a speckled wood butterfly is basking in the sunshine. 

While we had a rest on the new benches in one of the clearings, a buzzard flew up from the locust tree opposite and soared off towards the cemetery. I wonder if it’s one of those that I regularly see over the cemetery? L remarked that he’d seen a red kite from Barnwood several times, and so we sat in companionable silence for a few minutes to see if one would cooperate and appear. We didn’t see one, but still, Barnwood feels like a place of great biodiversity, full of opportunities for all kinds of invertebrates and birds, and yet also a place that welcomes human diversity too. There is something for everyone at Barnwood.

For a great piece about Barnwood and its history, have a look here.

2 thoughts on “A July Visit to Barnwood

  1. Anne

    An interesting narrative about the nursery spider! I am interested in the “over-55s group has been making soup” – are they a charity group; who do they make soup for? The shed intrigues me too: do volunteers manage this forest that they require gardening tools? Apart from these questions, I have enjoyed seeing the bounty this forest has on offer.


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